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Science Fiction for February 2024

by Henry L Lazarus

Science Fiction and Fantasy can evoke strange universes. 

Robert Jackson Bennett has a marvelous mystery, Nero Wolfe style,  set in a world that had built a huge wall to protect themselves from the leviathans of the deep ocean. The first victim is poisoned with the spore of an extremely fast growing plant. Ana Dolabra, the Justice agent, is brilliant, but avoids interaction, sometimes even wearing a blindfold. Dinios Kol, who was infused with perfect memory to record crime scenes, is very good at finding small clues. He’s assigned to Ana when she arrives in Daretana.  Unfortunately Engineers working the wall are attacked by the same plant, and the plant weakens the wall at the same time a massive leviathan is heading towards it. Of course the murders involveThe Tainted Cup (hard fromDel Rey) of corruption and they provide a very complex problem to be solved. This is a wonderful introduction to Ana and Kol. I hope this finds its way to an award. I was amazed by it. 

Daniel McDaniel sets his tale of Grieving Gold(hard from ‎ Endless Equinox) on a continent shaped like a lizard that is lit by three suns, each a different color. The light has weight and the citizens of Lumo No Se use that light for their technology. Each of the suns are considered gods and a fourth god fell thousands of years before and may be manipulating events. Some people, by releasing blood, can gain powerful talents. There are three levels to the city. The surface city is run by a corrupt council. Laxerion Tama is a thief who thought his noble father had disowned him who can manipulate lies. Ilumi has come to the city with an invitation to become a research assistant to a prominent scientist, but she is really a spy. Dawb is a street urchin whose friends are being murdered by priests and he wants revenge. Below the city are ruins of an ancient city that used our technology. Below that is a system of caves filled with monsters. Aiana hunts monsters in the darkness. I found the characters fascinating and the background amazing. Hopefully more of the story is on the way.

J E Tolbert tells a light, almost silly tale of a nineteenth century dominated by magical architects who built impossible buildings. Arsalan the Magnificent (paper from Curlicue Press)  was the best of them, but then he built a masterpiece for the Sultan, and it collapsed, His wife left him, and his daughter disappeared. So he leaves his palace and heads towards the Balkans where for three years he lives quietly, fixing local buildings with his magical powers. Then his agent persuades him to work with the young queen of Bavaria in repairing magical buildings that had started to tall apart far earlier than expected. Unfortunately there’s a civil war led by people who believe that magical buildings are a trick. Everything works out well in the end, including the appearance of his daughter and  reconciliation with his wife. And Arsalan has learned humility. Fun.

According to Gwenda Bond magic in the world comes in hidden talents. Dani Poissant has the ability to make perfect duplicates of fine art, but she’s been using minor blackmail to scam since she turned her mother into the FBI. Then her mother’s ex-partner hires her to steal a portrait of himself (painted a century before). It's part of a very rich collection that recently came on the market when the owner died. She only has a week, but her mother’s old crew might be available. Unfortunately there are other thieves to block The Frame-Up (paper from Del Rey). This heist tale is as much fun as sounds. I really enjoyed it and would eagerly read a sequel. 

In an alternate present Nano technology was developed in the sixties, and used by Frank Nano, a prominent movie maker and puppeteer, to make an amazing amusement park, Nanoland (hard from Gorilla House). As Jack McGuigan tells it, on the same day that the head of the corporation visits the island, the park goes wild trapping longtime cast member Alicia Amandi, some tourist kids and the head of the corporation in a nightmare filled with mermaids and frog puppets. It is definitely Jurassic Park on LSD. While there is a secret underlying the problems, it’s a lot of fun following the survival of the best people. Lots of fun  

Stephen K. Stanford sets his fun romp in the far future when a political movement is slowly taking over planets. Col and his investigator partner  Danee are sent to the lawless (think Las Vegas) artificial world out of phase with the galaxy, Jubilee(paper from Flame Tree Press) A politician's body has to be returned, and with the coroner on a drinking jag, they get a free three days. Unfortunately that’s enough time for the movement to have taken over Col’s hom planet, soon Both Col and Danee are soon fired, Col has his eye gouged out, and discovers that his wife is missing. Luckily there is help found in Jubilee and Col has a lot of talents at spy work\, James Bond style,  Lots of fun. I wouldn't mind more adventures. 

Malka Older returns to a Jupitor where humanity has settled on giant platforms after Earth became uninhabitable. Investigator Mossa is investigating a missing student from Pleiti’s university, and he becomes involved with the case, especially after it is discovered that  numerous students have disappeared. Then one of the students is found murdered. The Imposition of Unnecessary Obstacles (hard from Tordotcom) makes the case harder than it should, and shows off more of the universe, like the settlement on Ios.  I'm enjoying this mystery series and look forward to future cases. 

Lilith Saintcrow starts an excellent high fantasy tale in a world of Norse customs.Solveig is the first born with full human magic in a generation.  When her brother accidently kills a member of a delegation from the Far North, Solvig, and her shield maiden, Arneior are promised to the Northerners for a year and a day. What Solveig  doesn’t know is that A Flame in the North (hard from Orbit), the ancient evil from the far north, thought defeated, is rising again.  The northerners are led by a member of the elder race (elf), and the rest are werewolves. They travel north by magical path that speeds their journey and in the North are attacked by monstrous agents of the Dark Power. Solveig uses her meager powers to help where she can, but as they find refuge in cities soon under attack, it seems that survival is in question. These are not Hobbits but young women lost from the safety of their homes, and there is no magical ring to destroy the evil. The next book  will tell the tale of how the evil is defeated and I can’t wait.   

H.S. Gilchrist starts a duology set a thousand years after The End of the World (hard from Dystopian Sunrise Press). The world is separated by huge rifts. To the north people fight memory waifs with fire and spears. Animkii found a magical weapon, and was exiled from her tribe, somehow crossing the rift to the southern part dominated by the Technocrats, who promptly modify her into a cyborg soldier with her mind suppressed into a gestalt. But a computer virus releases her mind and she finds her way to Mica Stone, a troubled black-market recycler. Mica is being pursued by the Alter Cult because her blood will release their god from behind the blood gate.  Soon Animkii and Mica are on the run from both the Technocrats and the Alter Cult as Animkii is turning into full machine, and Mica reveals unusual talents that seem magical. I am waiting for the second half. 

L. K. Wintur starts a tale of a future where most live in MetiCities rated by social interaction. They were  built by Zelius Metihand, a mad genius reacting to the collapse of civilization.  Ren Unkno is an orphan, with a genius ability to fix machines who lives in the Outskirtz of the city. One day, after rescuing a droid and starting to repair the robot, he is asked to help control a jet racer because of the rumors of his ability. This is an interesting world run by corrupt hidden leaders, and Ren and friends might, by the end, have found a way to bring them down. Along the way Ren learns the dark secret of his birth as the The Engineer's Mechanic (ebook fromYellow Panda Publishing), and has improved the droid enough to win a robot fighting contest. Lots of fun, and I wonder what happens next after all seems lost. 

Richard Swan concludes his tale of a medieval empire set at the beginning of the age of gunpowder, where magic comes from the afterlife, Practicing magic requires horrible torture of victims, particularly when dealing with demons. To deal with the The Trials of Empire(hard from Orbit) Sir Konrad Vonvalt and his assistant Helena have to find allies in other lands, and ven travel to various parts of the afterlife. The mad priest Bartholomew Claver has allied with a demon and is using his armies, along with evil magic to conquer the Empire of the Wolf. The result is an intense and very satisfactory ending to a highly recommended trilogy. 

Merritt Fernsby and Hulda Larkin have set a marriage date. Owein who had haunted the Whimbrel House and had his soul put in a dog, is basically happy until an offer comes from Queen Victoria. His soul can be transferred to a human if he agrees to marry into English nobility when the new body is of age. According to Charlie N. Holmberg, that’s when things start going wrong with roofs collapsing and other attacks. Someone doesn’t want Owein to be a Boy of Chaotic Making (paper from 47North). Fun, and maybe the end of the trilogy. 

Alex Thornbury continues her tale of teenage Elika who was raised on the hard streets of Terren on the half of the world without magic. Thief and pickpocket, she hides the magic inside her even as that side of the world succumbs to desolation. She is the last living soul in the city to cross The Bridge to Magic (paper) and soon finds herself in a world dominated by mages, pieces of magic animating dead humans. Elika might be related to the Gods, whose universe rarely touches the world of humans. As she survives and then learns to harness her magic, she discovers she can destroy the magic animating the corpses, and becomes known as The Rogue Mage (ebook from Shadow Lore Publishing)  but the consequences of the destruction is a corresponding blight. A demi-god starts training her in her magic and she finds her first love, but that brings her to the attention of other demi-gods. A third book will complete this fascinating and absorbing tale, Wow so far. 

Glynn Stewart’s 14th tale in a universe where magic allows ftl travel, sents the Thorn captained by Captain Roslyn Chambers after the stolen Rose hijacked by Nemesis, Nemesis was setup to prepare humanity for an attack against the Reezh who had helped magic human powers, intending to steal the human brains, and who are centuries ahead of human technology. The trail leads to Chimera's Star (ebook from Faolan's Pen Publishing) where humans and Reezh have a combined government. From there the trail leads to the Reezh home planet setting up the next war in the fun series. I really enjoy this long series. 

Indrajit and Fix are back in the city of Kish filled with odd strains of humanity and sufficiently dank and dirty. As D.J. Butler tells it, this adventure starts simply enough. The pair have been sent to rescue a dancer who had been  kidnapped. Unfortunately in the process a woman whom Fix had once loved and lost is murdered . The Vin Dalu priests can resurrect her if Indrajit and Fix can retrieve a magical girdle. The trail leads the pair deeply into the plots  and schemes Among the Gray Lords (hard from Baen), who rule crime in the city. Which then leads to giant wasps, who grow their offspring in living bodies. Of course Fix gets infected, and of course there’s a horrible plot to destroy Kish. Exciting and impossible at the same time, because no one should be able to survive the danger that Indrajit and Fix have got themselves into. 

Premee Mohamed has a novelette about Veris Thorn, a simple villager, who had managed to retrieve her daughter from the enchanted forest years before, When theTyrant calls on her o rescue his two children from the horrific place she is forced to face The Butcher of the Forest (paper from Tordotcom) the forest is properly eerie, with puzzling rules. Impossible to put down. 

Jack McDevitt returns to the Earth where a farmer had discovered a portal to other world,  Ancient Shores. At the end of its sequel Thunderbird parts were thrown into Lake Superior. Of course the government would spare no end to recover the parts to the  Doorway to the Stars (hard from Subterranean Press) This novelette is a must for fans of the series because it has the answer to who built the portal and why. 

Tordotcom is  releasing two of Martha Wells’s early related fantasies in The Book of Ile-Rien in paper. Both are excellent and have been updated and revised. 

Baen has two collections. Larry Correia and Kacey Ezell have a group of tales set Down These Mean Streets(hard) and Sean Hazlett has found tales about Weird World War: China(trade)

Henry Lazarus is a retired Dentist and the author of A Cycle of Gods (Wolfsinger Publications) and Unnaturally Female (Smashwords). Check out his unified field theory at henrylazarus.com/utf.html that suggests fusion generation requires less energy.